There is nothing that bothers me more than some NBA coaches who, no matter what, always stick to the script. Win or lose, they go with what got them there. You see NFL coaches who are more stubborn than your know-it-all significant other who will “stick with the game plan.” Hello, Lovie Smith. The new rage in these NBA playoffs has been going with what will help you win games, not massaging egos. Tom Thibodeau has had to bench his most expensive player because he has played as though his rap song is more important than an NBA championship.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks made the ballsy call to sit all-star Russell Westbrook the entire 4th quarter in the team’s 106-100 game 2 win. The move could have backfired and ended the Thunder’s season. If the Mavs had come back to win that game, the division within the team would have repercussions all summer. Instead, the Thunder head back to OKC tied in the western conference finals, and the Westbrook to the Lakers talk will simmer for a while.
Image, status, and contract are taking a back seat to production if you stand in the way of getting wins. Taj Gibson has rightfully played more important 4th quarter minutes than the want- to- be- rapper because he has been more steady, more willing to play defense, and just better. Eric Maynor played most of the 4th quarter(along with Durant, Nick Collison, Daequan Cook, and James Harden–23 points on only 9 shots) for the Thunder because he isn’t a turnover machine. When Westbrook turned the ball over late in the 3rd, he said it was because another player broke off the play, forcing him to go one on one. That might be true, but this was the breaking point for Brooks. You could tell he had seen enough for the night. That group had it going, so why not ride it out?
Look, Westbrook is a phenomenal talent, but he is still new to the point guard position. This isn’t a knock on him. It takes time, and if anything, Westbrook should benefit from the benching. Westbrook seems like the little brother trying to get noticed. His summer workout partner just won an MVP, and he is trying to show the world just how good he is. It took Kobe years to embrace and grasp the team concept. Even after Pau Gasol showed up, Kobe still had his KoMe moments. At the end of game 2 of the ’09 finals, Kobe didn’t pass to a wide open Lamar Odom on the final play of a tied game. He wanted his game 1 of the ’97 finals MJ moment. Kobe forced up an ugly shot, and the game went to overtime. I vividly remember Phil Jackson sitting there smirking as Kobe went back to the bench and punched a chair.
In the long run, this will be good for Westbrook. He is an electric player who is still fighting to get the respect he feels he deserves. The way everything is magnified these days, he will be fairly or unfairly judged by how responds to the benching. He wasn’t 3-15 like he was in game 1, but turnovers kill you this deep in the playoffs. That is hardly news.
When Phil Jackson drew up the final shot in game 3 of the ’94 playoffs for Toni Kukoc instead of Scottie Pippen, Pip took himself out of the game. Kukoc hit the shot, the Bulls won game 3 vs the Knicks, but the story was Pip taking himself out of the game. Scottie apologized immediately afterward, and balled out in game 4 as the Bulls tied the series at 2-2. All was forgiven…Temporarily.
How Westbrook responds to this will determine the series. The future of the Durant-Westbrook duo will be dissected all summer, but Scott Brooks did what he had to win a conference finals game and not make an example out of his point guard. He may have pissed Westbrook off, but he earned some stripes with the rest of his team. It’s all about W’s this time of year. Westbrook should know as much.
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